Photo: Kira Derryberry
Profile of ‘Bundl' -- software that tracks political fundraising
Fundraising became so complicated that a former legislative aide built a sophisticated computer program to track all the checks.
A little over two years ago, on an early spring morning in Tallahassee, not long after Florida lawmakers had fled the city following the end of the annual legislative session, three friends met for coffee at Goodies, a sandwich shop a few blocks from the Capitol.
Joe Clements, a former legislative aide, and Matt Farrar, a former lobbyist, had decided to strike out on their own and were looking for an angle that they could build into a business. Andy Palmer, a lobbyist with Metz, Husband & Daughton, happened to have one.
With a client list ranging from American Express to Walt Disney World, Metz is one of the top lobbying firms in Florida. Part of its influence comes from raising millions of dollars every election cycle from its clients for politicians in Tallahassee.
Tracking that fundraising operation was a headache. Metz had monitored everything via a Microsoft Access database that few people in the firm really knew how to use, and a handful of Excel spreadsheets never displayed precisely the right information that people wanted to see.
Inside Goodies, the Metz firm’s headache became Clements and Farrar’s opportunity.
“I said, ‘Here’s what I want,’ "Palmer says. “ ‘I want to know how much money I’m collecting from clients. I want to be able to run reports for each client on demand. And when a member (of the Florida Legislature) calls me, I want to know real quickly, Hey, you’re asking for X and we’ve already done Y.’ ”
Clements and Farrar went to work. The result was Bundl, a web application to track political fundraising for lobbying firms and other “bundlers.”
While there are other online fundraising platforms on the market, Bundl appears to be unique in that it is aimed squarely at the middlemen and women who are the heart of modern day campaign finance.
Clements and Farrar say they have so far signed half a dozen of the state’s top 15 lobbying firms as clients, each of whom pays up to $5,000 per election cycle to use the system. The list of Bundl users includes Metz, Husband & Daughton; Ron Book & Associates; and Smith, Bryan & Myers, among others.
Bundl monitors every contribution for which a firm is responsible, from the moment it is requested from a client to the moment it is delivered to a legislator. The data can be “tagged” with additional details, such as the contributor’s industry, the event at which the contribution was pledged and whether someone in legislative leadership requested the contribution.
Most important, the data can be quickly sorted in any number of ways. It can answer simple questions, such as how much the firm has raised for a specific legislator and his or her personal political committee. Or it can be used for more complex queries, such as how much a client has donated to House candidates who have all promised to support a certain colleague as House Speaker.
Bundl also allows mobile phone or tablet users to access all of that information on the fly — such as when there’s a meeting with a specific client or legislator.
“We have a large book of clients with varying fundraising approaches, which leads to a lot of moving parts. As such, a system that helps us implement our plan by pulling it all together in a streamlined fashion is extremely valuable,” says Andrea Reilly, a lobbyist and general counsel at Smith, Bryan & Myers.
That there is a market for a product like Bundl is a testament to how vast and frenetic the world of political fundraising has become in Florida. The growth has been fueled in part by the proliferation of political committees that many legislators now use to raise unlimited sums of money.
There are so many checks passing through Metz, Husband & Daughton — hundreds a month, at times — that Allison Liby- Schoonover, who is in charge of tracking it all, uses four-inch binders to hold the physical copies.
“It’s a massive operation, and it’s constantly turning over. We really needed a more structured system that was not open to human error,” she says.
Beyond accuracy, an important element for Bundl users is ensuring they get “credit” from political leaders.
Both of the state’s major political parties — the Republican Party of Florida and the Florida Democratic Party — set fundraising “goals” for lobbying firms each election cycle. The size of the goal depends on the size of the firm and the party making the request; the state GOP, for instance, now expects the biggest firms to raise nearly $2 million each, with half to be spent on state House campaigns and half to be spent on Senate races.
Party leaders monitor progress closely, even adjusting goals upward if they see a firm has signed a new client. Meeting those goals is crucial for firms in order to preserve their relationships with legislative leadership.
Bundl promises its clients the ability to more accurately and precisely track progress toward such fundraising goals — and to make sure that the parties are using accurate information themselves.
Bundl, the company says in marketing materials, will “make sure you get credit for every penny in contributions that you do over the course of a cycle.”